All that jazz – the Liza Minnelli story

“Reality is something you rise above” – Liza Minnelli

She is the daughter of a legend, and has become a legend herself. From sell out worldwide tours and chart-topping albums to an Academy Award for a modern classic, she is a mistress of many talents and a cultural icon.

Her name is Liza Minnelli.

Liza May Minnelli was born on March 12, 1946, in Los Angeles, to superstar film actress Judy Garland and homosexual stage and movie director Vincente Minnelli. Her parents named her after Ira Gershwin’s song ‘Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)’.

“Growing up in Hollywood, it seemed like every kid was the child of some star. We had no idea that other people would think we were special, because there was no other lifestyle to compare it to,” Liza has said. She was born into ‘Hollywood royalty’ and made her motion picture debut at the age of three, alongside her mother and Van Johnson in ‘In the Good Old Summertime’ in 1949.

Her parents divorced in 1951, and her mother married Sid Luft the following year. Liza’s relationship with her mother was complex; Garland suffered from depression and was addicted to pills. She remained close to her father, who went on to marry Georgette Magnani in 1954, Denise ‘Danica’ Radosavljevic in 1962, and Margaretta Lee Anderso in 1980.

Liza would later remark, “I’ve said it before, but it’s absolutely true: My mother gave me my drive, but my father gave me my dreams. Thanks to him, I could see a future.”

Liza dropped out of school and went to New York to pursue a stage career. She attended New York City’s High School of Performing Arts, and Chadwick School. Liza also spent a year at Scarsdale High School, before starring in the production ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. In 1961, she was an apprentice at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, Hyannis, Massachusetts. Liza appeared in the chorus of ‘Flower Drum Song’ and played the part of Muriel in ‘Take Me Along’.

She was 17 when she began performing professionally and landed a role in an off-Broadway revival of ‘Best Foot Forward’, for which she received the Theatre World Award. Liza also appeared in her mother’s short-lived television series, ‘The Judy Garland Show’, and performed beside her at the Palladium in London, where she made a great impression on the audience.

‘It was like mama suddenly realized I was good, that she didn’t have to apologize for me. It was the strangest feeling. One minute I was on stage with my mother, the next moment I was on stage with Judy Garland”, Liza later recalled.

Liza released her debut solo album ‘Liza! Liza! Liza!’ by Capital records in 1964, and several other albums followed, which included ‘It Amazes Me’ and ‘There is a Time’. Her popular numbers like ‘Liza Minnelli’, ‘Come Saturday Morning’ and ‘New Feelin’ were released by A&M Records. In 1965, Liza won a Tony Award for Best Actress at the age of 19 for the title role of Flora, in the short-lived run of ‘The Red Menace’. It made her one of the youngest performers ever to win the award. Liza was critically lauded for her performance as misfit Pookie Adams alongside Albert Finney in the comedy ‘Charlie Bubbles’ in 1967. She went on to receive her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance in the 1969 film ‘The Sterile Cuckoo’.

It was during the production of Otto Preminger’s ‘Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon’ that Liza suffered the loss of her mother. Judy Garland died of an accidental overdose in London on June 22, 1969, at the age of 47. The loss had a big effect on the young Liza.

Liza was later to remark: “It was no great tragedy being Judy Garland’s daughter. I had tremendously interesting childhood years – except they had little to do with being a child.”

Two years later, Liza rose to international stardom with the musical ‘Cabaret’ for the iconic role of nightclub singer Sally Bowles, alongside Joel Grey and Michael York. The film was directed by Bob Fosse, and Liza won an Academy Award for Best Actress. She followed ‘Cabaret’ with the Emmy Award-winning television special ‘Liza with a Z’ in 1972. Many of her successive projects failed commercially and received mixed reviews, with the exception of romantic comedy ‘Arthur’, where she starred alongside Dudley Moore and Sir John Geilgud in 1981.

“Working with Dudley Moore was so hilarious. I don’t know how we got anything done because everybody was laughing so hard, but he was such a wonderful man, and he had a kindness and a musicality and a dearness to him that was triumphant,” Liza recalled.

She received mixed reviews for her successive projects, which have included ‘Lucky Lady’ (1975), ‘New York, New York’ (1977) alongside Robert De Nero, ‘Rent-a-Cop’ (1988) alongside Burt Reynolds, ‘Stepping Out’ (1991) and a guest appearance in ‘Sex and the City 2’ (2010) in which she covered Beyoncé’s hit Single ‘Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ and Cole Porter’s ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’. Liza also appeared on television in several variety musical specials and non-musical productions, such as ‘A Time to Live’ (1985) and ‘Parallel Lives’ (1994), and was an acclaimed special guest star in the Emmy-Award winning TV sitcom ‘Arrested Development’ as Lucille Austero between 2003 and 2013. She also appeared in NBC’s ‘The Apprentice’ in December 2010. She returned successfully to Broadway in Kander and Ebb′s ‘The Act’ (1977) and ‘The Rink’ (1984), and various concert shows including ‘Liza’s at The Palace…’ in 2008.

Liza has focused for the most part on live performances and gives numerous concerts each year around the world. On June 14, 2012, Liza headlined the Hampton Court Palace Festival. On May 9, 2014, she had a guest appearance on Cher’s ‘Dressed to Kill’ tour in Brooklyn, performing ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ alongside Cyndi Lauper and Rosie O’Donnell. On July 24, 2015, Liza performed at the IP Casino Resort & Spa, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the closing of ‘Flora the Red Menace’.

With her large dark eyes and raven hair, Liza has her own distinctive look and unconventional beauty. Her personal life could be described as eventful. She married Australian singer and entertainer Peter Allen in 1967 – the marriage lasted seven years, until the couple divorced in 1974. That same year, Liza married the producer and director Jack Haley Jr, whose father had co-starred alongside her mother as the Tin Man in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ .The marriage ended in divorce in 1979, and Liza married sculptor and stage manager Mark Geo. She suffered three miscarriages during the marriage and the couple divorced in 1992.

In 2002, Liza married concert promoter David Gest in a star-studded ceremony, but the marriage was mired in allegations of alcohol-induced violence and property disputes. It ended after just 16 months. Liza has expressed sadness for not being able to conceive a child after developing a hiatal hernia, “which I got when I was pregnant and they put me upside down trying to hold the baby – and the baby passed away anyway”. She has served various charities and promoted numerous causes, including HIV/AIDS.

Liza has won numerous accolades throughout her career, including a Special Tony Award in 1974 for her three-week engagement at the Winter Garden Theatre. She also won her second Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her starring role in the 1977 musical ‘The Act’, was Tony-nominated for her performance for the 1984 musical The Rink, and won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event for her show ‘Liza’s at The Palace’.

“I believe all drunks go to heaven, because they’ve been through hell on earth”, Liza once said.

By the mid-1980s, she was ready to tackle her own problems with drugs and alcohol. She went to the Betty Ford Clinic for rehabilitation. Later, she toured extensively and continued to make movies. Her father died of heart failure in 1986, and the following year, she participated in the critically acclaimed documentary ‘Minnelli on Minnelli: Liza Remembers Vincente’ which received several Emmy Award nominations.

Around this time, Liza teamed up Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. for a world tour called ‘The Ultimate Event’. In 1989, Liza collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys on the album ‘Results’. The album hit the top 10 in the UK, and also charted in the US, spawning four singles: ‘Losing My Mind’; ‘Don’t Drop Bombs’; ‘So Sorry, I Said’; and ‘Love Pain’. In 2005, a remastered and expanded edition of the album included video clips on a bonus DVD.

Later that year, Liza performed ‘Losing My Mind’ live at the Grammys ceremony before receiving a Grammy Legend Award. With this award, Liza became one of only 16 people – in a list that includes Whoopi Goldberg and Barbra Streisand – to win an Emmy, Grammy, Tony Award and Academy Award.

“I don’t understand the idea of being a cultural icon; I am really just a gypsy. I love going to dance class and rehearsing. So I am always startled and grateful whenever anyone says that about me,” Liza said in 2008.

Liza has survived many personal traumas, and battled drink and drugs to shine bright in the firmament of true stars whose unquestionable talent lives on long after they have departed the world stage. Liza with a ‘Z’ is a unique woman: warm-hearted, gutsy and hugely talented. She will continue to dazzle and bring joy to millions around the world with her performances for many years to come.

“I feel like I haven’t done my best work yet. I feel like there’s a world of possibilities out there.”

Words: Alex Karas
Image: Ender Yildizhan


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